Q and A With the Rhino Man

Wildlife biologist Hemanta Mishra's efforts to save the endangered Indian rhinoceros

(Courtesy of Brot Coburn and Lyons Press)

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What do you think that people trying to save native wildlife, especially those in other developing countries, can learn from Nepal's efforts to save the rhino?
First of all, generate the political will. Then for us, the support from the World Wildlife Fund and the Smithsonian was very valuable because you need to have good science. But good science by itself is not enough. You need to learn how to change good science into good management. The third thing is you also need to demonstrate you're not only saving a species, you're also saving a whole habitat, and maintaining land, maintaining clean water—the ecological services that are now creeping up as a new science. We also need to link ecology with economics and with the social and political factors in any country. It's hard work.

Nepal has undergone over a decade of violence and political uncertainty, and that may not end even with the April elections. Do you think that the rhinos of Nepal will survive?
You've asked the hardest question. To write that last chapter for me was difficult because I was swinging like a pendulum from one side to the other. The answer changes from day to day. I really don't know, but I must say that one has too be an optimist in our business (conservation). The rhino population has shot down from 550 to about 300 in 2006. You can still go to Chitwan and see the rhinos, but the rhinos I took to Bardia have been wiped out. I can only say that I hope that peace will prevail. With political turmoil, the wild animals are the ones to suffer most.

About Sarah Zielinski
Sarah Zielinski

Sarah Zielinski is an award-winning science writer and editor. She is a contributing writer in science for Smithsonian.com and blogs at Wild Things, which appears on Science News.

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